Sunday, July 17, 2011

Getting ready to head home

We have had a great trip, but now we're about ready to head home. We fly out tomorrow (Monday) morning, going to Detroit via Tokyo.

Yesterday was a rainy day, especially in the afternoon. While I was in class, Mom had planned to go on a tour to Chiufen Village, but it was raining so hard that she decided to cancel, so she just wandered around took some photos when the rain stopped. Class went well, and when I got back to the hotel, we decided to just walk a little bit around our hotel, and then had some dinner at TGI Friday's. It was a nice slow day.

Today was the final day of class. We went through the remaining material for our class, and the students had group presentations to give. It is always interesting to see how the different groups take on the assigned task and reach very different conclusions about how best to take on the assignment.  Just as one of the groups was about to start their presentation, we heard what sounded like a parade going on outside. There was actually a protest going down the street, though the protest march was, essentially, a marching band parade. There were drums and other instruments, marching in ranks down two lanes of the street, while traffic continued on the remaining lanes.  The protesters were Falun Gong members. Falun Gong is a spiritual discipline rooted in Buddhism with some Taoist principles, and it is banned in mainland China, and practitioners are heavily persecuted there. I have seen various protests by Falun Gong members here before, but this was the first one with a band. It was pretty large, with what seemed to be a couple of hundred members.

We wrapped up class, and the students had invited me and Mom to join them at their post-last-day-of-class meal. They chose a very traditional Taiwanese restaurant, and ordered a fixed menu of a tremendous amount of food. They described it as the sort of meal that you might have had 30 years ago in a small village to celebrate some good fortune. I lost count when we reached eight different dishes brought to the table, but I do remember fish, beef ribs, squid, mussels, scallops, chicken, pork, cabbage soup, crab, and at least a few other things. It was excellent all around, and I left plenty full, that's for sure.

Mom and I came on back to the hotel, and we're all packed. The alarm is set for 5:45am, and the car will pick us up at 6:45am. We missed doing some of the things we were hoping to do while we were here, due to the rain, but we got to do a lot of things, too.  The Maokong Gondola was really cool, and we really enjoyed the National Palace Museum. Going with Mom to the outdoor observation deck on the 91st floor of Taipei 101 was really fun, and the whole trip has just been a pleasure. Hanging out with Mom has been the best part, of course, and introducing her to a part of the world she's never seen before. It's been a good trip.

Friday, July 15, 2011

The Maokong Gondola, and rain, and a blog post from Mom

(This post was written by Mom, and typed  by Marcus, with a few editorial comments thrown in.)

Starting off our gondola ride
Looking out over Taipei
Taipei 101 towers over everything.
Our outing today was to the Maokong Gondola, one of the few "tourist" places that Marcus had not already been. We boarded the MRT at our usual subway station (I am getting a little better about which train to board to get where I want to be!), and road to the end of the brown line, which is the station for the Taipei Zoo, as well as for the gondola. We opted for the highest station on the gondola ride (which takes you up about 300 meters over the course of the trip), and really enjoyed the beauty all around us as we climbed higher and higher into the sky. [MWD: I kept saying "This is soo cool!]  Each of the cars would probably hold six people and feel quite stable and secure.
The picture doesn't do this justice.

Sanxuan Temple, where we waited for a break in the rain
When we reached the top, we started of on a little exploration -- and then those fluffy, fast-moving clouds that we had enjoyed going up the mountain turned into angry black thunderclouds full of heavy rain and lightning. At that point, most of the exploring was over, the gondola was closed [MWD: Cool as it was, I would not want to be up there in high wind and heavy rain.], and after waiting out the rain for quite a while in a small local temple, we joined the very long line sitting and waiting for a bus to take us back to the zoo subway station at the bottom of the mountain. I don't know whether it was the gray hair ("honor your elders") or the round eyes, but somehow we were jumped to the front of the line and gratefully hopped on the bus. [MWD: Mom made friends with a little girl sitting on her mother's lap on the bus on the way down the mountain -- the mother said "She would like to ask you where you are from", and then encouraged the little girl to ask. She was probably 4 years old, I would guess, and they seemed to have quite a nice little chat on the way down the windy mountain road.]  I really don't think God left us on that big airplane for 18 hours getting us to Taiwan just to spill us out on a gondola on the mountain, but returning to terra firma felt pretty good. Another good day.
The mist rolled in, and everything was hidden.

MWD: We had thought about going to a baseball game tonight, but the rain is continuing, and so that may not be our best choice. The same for our thoughts of going to Danshui to sit and look at the water. We still have another night or two, and if the rain does let up, maybe we'll hit the local night market tonight.

Last thing -- while Mom may not yet recognize any Chinese characters, this symbol is one she has come to recognize quickly.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

The Paper Museum

Mom at the MRT station entrance

As we do pretty much every time we head off somewhere by MRT, we headed to the Nanjing East Road station, and that's what we did this morning.

I've been to the SuHo Paper Museum before, but it is a neat place, and Mom wanted to go, so off we went. We had been given instructions on how to get there by subway (MRT), but learned as we went that the instructions were wrong -- we were told to go to the wrong subway station! Thankfully, we were only one station away from the right one, and we figured that out before we had left the trains, so we were able to just get back on the new train and go to the right place.

Mom making her perfect sheet of paper
Me making my deformed sheet of paper
The Paper Museum is fairly small, but the artwork in paper shown inside, along with the information about the history of paper-making, make it a wonderful place to visit.It is really educational, but also takes a light-hearted approach to much of what it displays and how it educates.  It is a popular place for school groups, as we saw today, and we were glad that we were able to make our own sheet of paper before the HUGE school group came in a few minutes later. It was fun to watch them, though, and to see the similarities and differences between a group of Chinese schoolchildren and what a group of American schoolchildren would have been like.

There is a paper store almost next door to the museum, and between the two places, we found some really wonderful things to bring home. Thankfully, they are generally flat and light, so everything should fit in the suitcase!

This evening, I had class again, and it went smoothly. Tomorrow is up in the air for us -- depending largely on the weather. Hopefully we will be able to go to ride the Maokong Gondola to see some of the teahouses up on the mountain, and then to either catch a baseball game or go to Danshui, but for now, we just don't know. We'll be sure to let you know what we end up doing, though!

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

I lied to Mom tonight

Yesterday when we went to Din Tai Fung, the famous Taiwanese dumpling restaurant, Mom wasn't feeling so well, and so she didn't have anything to eat. That was a shame, and today, she was feeling fine and we decided to head back to the same restaurant. She had said that maybe she'd need to have a fork to eat there, and I told her that we'd be sure to get her one.
The wait was a little longer than we had expected, but then suddenly it was our turn, and we were happily seated. We ordered shrimp fried rice and some spicy noodles, and then an order of the original dumpling recipe, and an order of steamed shrimp and pork dumplings. I encouraged Mom to go ahead and give the chopsticks a shot, and she did great! I had, of course, never intended to get her a fork -- I knew that once she tried with the chopsticks and spoon, all would be well. She learned to mix some soy sauce and vinegar in with the shredded ginger in a small dish on the table, and then to pick up a dumpling in the chopsticks, dip it in the ginger and soy sauce/vinegar mix, put the dumpling into your spoon and poke a hole in the dumpling with a chopstick to let the broth inside out so that it can cool, and then taste that delicious dumpling that was totally worth the wait!

Food and ancient artifacts

Scooters, everywhere you look!

We continue to have a fun time here. Mom was commenting on all of the scooters -- this is far and away the most common way Taipei residents get around, and scooters are everywhere. I hope you can see that the scooters parked along this street just go on and on and on. You'll see children riding on the floorboards between a parent's feet, people carrying huge packs, all sorts of things -- I really liked having a scooter at home, but wouldn't dream of trying to ride one here.

Yesterday (Tuesday) was a great day for food. Robert and Jenny Torng, who run the program here in Taipei, invited us to lunch. I've worked with Robert and Jenny since I first started coming to Taiwan, and I have always enjoyed their company. They took us to a very nice Italian restaurant -- or to be more accurate, I'd say a very nice Italian restaurant that caters primarily to Chinese people. The foods were familiar, but with just a little twist. The Caesar salad was not quite what I was used to -- it had no lemon juice or parmesan cheese, and the egg was soft-boiled. It was delicious, but not what I would have expected when I ordered a Caesar salad. Mom had a risotto with asparagus and corn, and the pasta with beef that I had was absolutely Asian-influenced in its seasoning. Excellent again, but different. The restaurant was inside a mall that is part of a Japanese chain of malls, and had a wonderful view into a Japanese garden inside the mall. We enjoyed the time with Jenny and Robert, and hope we'll see them again while we're here.
Making dumplings at Din Tai Fung.
For dinner, some of the students had invited us to go to one of the most famous restaurants in Taipei -- Din Tai Fung. They do dumplings, mostly, and I had almost forgotten how good they are. We watched the dumplings being made, and were amazed at the speed and precision. Each dumpling is made by hand, and it is an impressive process to watch, especially since there are so many people in line and ordering dumplings at all hours of day and night. It was a pleasure to have the students meet Mom, and to get to know Alan, Paul, and Pauline a little better.

After dinner, it was time for class, so Mom had to take the subway (MRT) back to the hotel on her own. I wanted to take a picture of her venturing off on her own for the first time in Taipei, but she moved so swiftly and confidently through the subway station that she was gone before I could get the camera out!

Gardens around the National Palace Museum
One of the NPM buildings
Today our plan had been to go to the National Palace Museum, and then in the evening to go to Danshui, which is right on the water, and is a beautiful place to spend an evening. The rains came down HARD while we were at the museum, so we aren't so sure about going to an outdoor area for the evening -- we'll try to fit that in later on in the trip. But the museum was great, as it always is. Such a beautiful location -- great architecture in the midst of so much green.

"Meat stone"
The National Palace Museum houses the collections of the emperors of China, along with many other wonderful treasures. Many of the items in the collection were taken from the Forbidden City, where the Chinese emperors lived, by Chiang Kai-Shek, who is referred to as a thief by the Chinese. Of course, had the items remained in China, they would largely have been destroyed during the Cultural Revolution, so I think it is good that they are here. There are several amazing things to see, including wonderful jade objects going back to 4000 BC and before. One of the "featured items" is a piece of jasper that is said to look like a piece of pork (yes, I know, it seems odd), and Mom and I argued over whether it really does look like meat or not. What do you think?  We also saw calligraphy, and talked about how calligraphy and hand-writing are not seen in the West as art forms in the way that they are here.
Me and Mom and Confucius, hanging out in Taipei
One of the fun things was to get a picture taken with Mom at the same statue of Confucius where I was photographed on my first visit to Taipei. Strangely, I seem smaller back then, especially around the middle. Must be a trick of the camera.
We spent more time at the museum that we expected, we were enjoying it so much, so we did not make it to the SuHo paper museum today. Perhaps tomorrow.
We miss everyone, and hope we are missed in return!

Monday, July 11, 2011

Catching up

Yesterday (Sunday) was a busy day. I had class again, and so had to be out the door at 8:30am to hop on the MRT from our station (Nanjing Rd. East) one stop on the Muzha line to the Zhongxiao Fuxing station, with about a 10 minute walk from there to the office where my class is being taught. Class went well, and for lunch we all went out to another local little restaurant. The students ordered for me fish ball soup, as well as a spicy beef and noodles dish. Excellent food all around. I did ask for a Coke -- I still need my cold caffeine each day.
While I was in class, Mom spent a little time exploring around our hotel (Howard Garden Suites). She wandered up and down Changchun Road, and found several little hotspots, including a Starbucks, where I think she spent a little time over coffee and the newspaper.
In the evening, our plan had been to go to a Night Market that I have never been to before -- the Raohe Street Night Market.  One of my students had recommended it, and so I was looking forward to something new. I gave the sheet of paper the student had written the name on to the person at the front desk of our hotel so that she could write it out on a card for the taxi driver. We hopped in a cab, and were on our way. But when we were dropped off, we discovered that we had been delivered instead to the Shihlin Night Market -- a big, famous market, but not the one that we had intended to go to. We decided to stay, though, and to explore it.
Outside the Shihlin Night Market
Mom and I wandered around, and found many wonderful things that somehow we did not need to purchase. We actually did find some fun things, including some little jade bracelets that we will give to the kids in Heather's Sunday School class, and a watch for me (I always love to get a very good looking stunningly cheap knock-off watch when I travel). We also wandered through all the food places -- all of those food odors mixing together don't always combine to create something wonderful, but we did find a lot of interesting things to look at, including a booth that had a variety of types of snakes in cages, though we didn't see any of them being turned into something to eat. I did find something that looked good -- it's essentially a potato that has been cut into a spiral that is then fried into a lengthy potato chip. It looked good, so I asked for one -- or at least, I thought I did. I had pointed to what I intended to get, but ended up with something entirely different. What I got was more like a fried triangle with something stuffed inside -- I have absolutely no idea what it was, but it was tasty! Mom wasn't sure that she would have gone for that -- she wants to know what she's eating. I suggested that sometimes, maybe you don't want to know!
91 floors up, and outside!
Today, we thought about going to the National Palace Museum, because it looked a bit overcast. But when we were through with breakfast, the sky was nice and clear, and we decided that it would be a good day to go to Taipei 101 instead. Taipei 101 used to be the tallest building in the world, though it has now been significantly surpassed by a building in Dubai. But it is truly impressive, and we very much enjoyed it. You can go up to the 89th floor inside observation deck, and then we went up two more floors, to an external observation deck on the 91st floor. The elevator to get you up there is the fastest in the world, covering 84 floors in 37 seconds!  Your ears pop on the way up and back down, that's for sure.
After going through the observation deck way up high, we went back down to the lower floors, where there is a (very) upscale mall. We didn't feel the need to purchase anything at Coach or Burberry or any of the jewelry stores, but we did go to the food court down below. I had a Mos Burger -- sliced beef between two rice patties -- which is always one of my favorites. Mom was so excited when she spotted an Auntie Anne's pretzel shop! I wasn't able to persuade her to get the seaweed pretzel, though.

Yay! Auntie Anne's!

Wait a second... that's not what I wanted!
We will probably head back out for dinner a little later, and maybe make another try to go to the Raohe Night Market! But we'll figure that out a little later -- for now, we're just going to sit in the room, cool off, write a blog post, and watch some sumo wrestling on tv.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Mom's City Tour

So while I was in class today, spending the day getting to know my 12 students, Mom went on a tour of Taipei. The tour guide came by to pick her up at about 8:10am, and from there they went to a Buddhist temple that is housed in what used to be the Taipei City Hall. It's a very different place from the much older Longshan Tempe we went to yesterday. From there, it was off to Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial Hall, where she was able to see the last part of the changing of the guard ceremony. She also said that the tour guide helpfully clarified that, while in mainland China you might hear that Chiang was a thief of imperial treasures, in fact he was a protector of them, not a thief. Next on the tour was the Martyrs' Shrine, where the dead from wars involving the Republic of China (ROC) are memorialized. A stop at a crafts center (with some high pressure sales folks), and then a brief visit to the National Palace Museum wrapped up the tour.
My class went well, and seems to be a good group of students. I am looking forward to working with them while I am here.
For dinner this evening, we thought we might look for something a little more Western -- we both had weird dreams last night after our local meal!  So we asked at the front desk for suggestions, and were told that there is a Subway, a McDonalds, a Hooters, and a TGI Friday's close by. We went for the last one, and had a nice meal that was pretty much like what we'd get at home.

Mom's deciding now what she'll do tomorrow, and we'll let everyone know what happens. We're having a great time, and continue to enjoy the time together, as much as we miss everyone. We can't wait to hear how Michael's Choir Camp concert today went!

Friday, July 8, 2011

Class starts today, and Mom goes touring

It's early morning here in Taipei, and Mom and I are up and getting ready to go get some breakfast. My class starts this morning, and I am looking forward to meeting the students and getting going on that. Mom is taking a City Tour this morning, going to the National Palace Museum (very briefly -- sort of like a Papaw visit to the Smithsonian), and to a Buddhist temple, and to the Martyr's Shrine, and one or two other places. Who knows where she'll adventure in the afternoon!
Last night, we asked at the desk for a recommendation for dinner, and they suggested a restaurant called Yokohama, which, despite the name, is Taiwanese style food. "You go down to the Family Mart, and go into the little lane next to it, and walk until you see these Chinese characters on the sign, because the sign isn't in English." Well, we did find it, and ended up having some excellent fried rice, stir-fried noodles and pork, some spicy eggplant dish (which the waitress insisted on -- we didn't realize that we were ordering to share, and she felt that we needed a vegetable, and so that's what we ended up with), and some sort of cold pea soup. More than enough food for both, and very good, in a place that was down in an alley and filled with local folks (so we knew it would be good), and the cost was about $15 US total (including a gigantic bottle of Taiwan Beer -- I had forgotten that they tend to bring the big bottles to dinner tables).
We turned in early (around 10pm), and were up early, and now it is time to start the day!  I told Mom that she needs to ask the tour guide today to get some pictures of HER in Taiwan, not just letting her take pictures of Taiwan, so we'll see how well she follows through on that.
We're having a great time, and will check in later today.

Back to Taipei

It's been a long time since this blog was updated, but it's about time to do so! I am back in Taipei to teach the Leadership class again as part of Baruch's Executive Master's degree program. I was supposed to be here last year, but the economy was so bad here that they couldn't get enough students to run the program. I had invited Mom to come along last year, and we were so disappointed when it was canceled. But now it is on, and we're here! Mom flew to Detroit on July 4, and then we flew together from Detroit to Tokyo, and then (because our flight was late) we had to rush through the airport in Tokyo to catch our flight to Taipei. We arrived at about 10pm local time last night.
We are no longer staying at the Howard International House, but are instead now at the Howard Garden Suites, which is very nice. We stayed up as late as we could last night, and then slept until about 7am, so as to try to get on local time. This morning we had a great breakfast in the hotel, and then went out to get a SIM card for a phone, so that Mom would be able to reach me while I am teaching and she is exploring. She is booked to go on a City Tour tomorrow morning, which is when my class starts. I want to be sure that she is comfortable, and knows that she has a way to reach me (I am given a phone for local calls by the local office here). So we got a SIM card, and need to see why it isn't quite working yet.
We found that this new hotel is only a very few minutes walk from the subway (MRT) station, so we started out the adventure here by getting a day pass for the MRT, and then went to Longshan Temple. Mom and I talked about how similar some things seemed at this old Buddhist Temple -- some people are obviously very devout, and some are going through the motions; there are prayer beads that look a lot like rosaries; there's a lot of incense; you see a lot more older people at the temple than you do elsewhere, since older folks are often among the more devoted to their faith; and there are rituals, motions, etc. that people make that reminded us of genuflection and other similar patterns we're a little more familiar with. But a lot is different as well, with the offerings to the ancestors, the varieties of Buddhas recognized, the throwing of tokens for fortune telling, and the traditional Buddhist and Taoist influences intermixing in the same temple. It was a great place to start our day. We also went through several little shopping alleys, and into a mall underneath the MRT at the Longshan Temple.
It is really hot here, so we took it easy today as we started off. We'll go out tonight, probably to a Night Market, to get a little more start on the visit. My class starts early tomorrow, and Mom's tour does as well, so we won't be out late, that's for sure.

It's great to be here, and to be on an adventure with Mom!